When I was in high school our church went out early on S—
[Oh, dear God, this life! Thank you, Father. I mean it, you know, thank you! I am sitting here in this coffee shop, and a man has just walked in on crutches—picture polio-type crutches that wrap around each arm—and he has braces on his legs and he is of an age that I imagine it is polio. He sits near the door at a tall stool, waiting for someone. She comes in and I didn’t catch her name, but his name is Ray (but not Chestnut Ray from the Farm), and she sits across from him. A young girl is leaving with her drink, and he stands, uses his crutches to maneuver to the side, and then props the door open for this young woman. He can barely stand and is using the tip of one crutch to open the door for a lady. I grab my drink from my own table, so they will know that I am a customer (even though it’s my own glass, but that didn’t cross my mind), and I go up to their table. He is now seated again and they are talking, so I wait a beat. And then I tell him: I think that was really special, what you did there, opening the door for that young girl with your crutch. It is nice to see that there are still gentlemen, I tell him. And he tells me about their trip to the Galapagos islands and how he was able to use his crutch once to move a giant tortoise that was blocking the road, and that it’s how the guides do it, nudging the tortoise under and in the back. And I tell them about something Mom had reminded me of, that when I was a kid in Oklahoma, I had ridden a giant tortoise from the Galapagos at the Oklahoma City zoo. They smile, this gentleman and woman. And then I tell them about that elephant in the parking lot, also in Oklahoma the summer after third grade, and the gentlewoman smiles and says “Yes! When I was a girl, this man had an elephant in the parking lot of a grocery store in Seattle, and we got to ride it!” And the gentleman asks me if I remember how it felt . . . I do, I tell him, and I briefly repeat to them what I have already written of it, and that it was easily worth a dozen weeks of allowance and they tell me that they took their life’s savings at the time and spent a month traveling and that they had come back poor. And I am thinking that this Ray and his companion did not come back poor 38 years ago because here we are, talking about it. Sharing. We are connected by a bridge across time held on the backs of an elephant and a tortoise, and I tell them that they came back wealthy, really, didn’t you? And they smile gentle smiles, nodding yes, both of them, and I come back to my seat, very wealthy as well.]
—unday mornings. Some from our church actually rode on the bus, but all the church was united in its support of us going across the tracks to that part of town and picking up underprivileged kids to bring them to church to learn about Jesus, maybe about God, and to see what it is like to be an imitation of both as we serve others and think less of ourselves. And that was written on the side of the bus in bold letters, one meter tall, JOY. Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.
It is a good sentiment, that JOY acronym, although these days I am thinking GOY is more like it, putting God first and then the rest. And GOY is Yiddish for “Christian” so it works out really well, but maybe not many people would get it, so JOY is just fine. But in my mind, I will think GOY because God, then others, then self is Jesus. That works out really well too, so I am good now, again, on that JOY bus. Because I was there, in high school, Mr. Tim was, leading songs while the bus bounced around through the potholes. And I remember that one time we decided a pancake breakfast for all the kids would be simply grand. So this time it was a Saturday that we went out.
We picked up a record crowd because we had promoted the promise of pancakes perfectly and the bus was nearly full, as I was standing while leading those songs. We got to the church, and all the ladies and a very few men (What’s up men—maybe you are out working and that’s okay, but more likely there is a game on or something and you are skipping out on these souls or maybe you don’t like pancakes?) had all things ready and this one little boy challenged me. I can eat more pancakes than you can, Mr. Tim, he said. And I said you are on, Ralph! Let’s get started.
We are eating now, pancake after pancake. And they are almost paper plate sized, but there is plenty of syrup and butter and milk to wash them down, and I am easily holding my own. He begins to falter, but I am still strong. Getting OMG fullish, but strong. He stops at six and I decide to keep going. And going. Twelve pancakes later I am walking around a little more slowly and maybe my vision is blurred even, but I am a kind of champion and the news has already spread and maybe I will be a legend across the tracks too if there is anyone who will listen to Ralph when he tells the tale. Oh, its time to go. We are loading on the bus and just as soon as we pull out of the parking lot, which is still gravel (it will be paved years later, and I will see it at my sister’s wedding, all paved), we start singing. “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart . . . ” And I feel it, something down there, but it is below my heart as well. It is my stomach I know. And two potholes into the joy bus ride those pancakes, ugh and all of that milk! ugh ugh have become a solid mass that begins to shift around. And I find a seat because standing while singing is no longer an option.
Let this be a lesson unto thee, my son, that sooooooo many pancakes, doth a victor make, but doth also curb the appetite for praise.
And that brings us to this afternoon. By a confluence of three things—one from a distance, once from this blog, and one from the radio—at a little after two p.m. I was moved to sit here in this coffee shop. Alondra the Affable said she’d make a special drink for this glass I brought in, and I sat intending to write, but began reading instead, something I’d written from the past but now oh so present, and then I thought I’d like some music. And I am still off work and I already took off my dress up clothes for today, so I have plenty of options. I put on my Bluetooth headphones and thought about what music to play. I was further moved to reach over for a sip of a gorgeous drink, one with a little flower made from espresso that had colored the top of the cold foam in my glass, and then I reached for my phone. I paired my phone’s audio with my headphones and then hmmmm I wonder what I am missing on 89.9 these days during vacation? I opened the app and pressed play and did not even look, just noted the time, and began to listen while I was reading and experiencing and living and sharing GOY Joy divine.
And from Berlin, Beethoven’s Ninth connected all that is dear to me as it washed over everything that is real and true and ever shall be . . . an Ode to Joy into eternity.
Shabbat Shalom . . .